Spirituality and Psychotherapy: In Pursuit of Common Ground

July 30, 2022

For over a century, psychiatry and religion have had a rocky relationship. Thankfully, McLean’s new Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program is designed to get that relationship onto smoother ground.

“Sigmund Freud was virulently anti-religious,” said David H. Rosmarin, PhD, ABPP, director of McLean’s Spirituality and Mental Health Program, a hospital-wide initiative, which includes the CPE program. Rosmarin noted that most freestanding psychiatric hospitals do not have chaplaincy services due to the historic rift between psychiatric treatment and religion.

“Our research has found that more than half of our patients profess a desire to integrate spirituality/religion into their care, and many aspects of spirituality are relevant to patients’ recovery, in both positive and negative ways,” he said.

To address this dichotomy, McLean chaplain and ACPE-certified educator Rev. Angelika A. Zollfrank, MDiv, BCC, through philanthropic support, has established the CPE program to train clergy, theological students, and budding chaplains to work with psychiatric patients and bring their lessons back to their congregations or other professional settings.

Rev. Angelika A. Zollfrank, MDiv, BCC
Rev. Angelika A. Zollfrank, MDiv, BCC, established the CPE program at McLean Hospital.

“Clergy are often the first line of defense in the general population when it comes to mental health concerns, so our program is potentially of importance for public health,” Rosmarin added.

“Spirituality can be a source of strength as well as a source of tension or pain, or a stressor, in a patient’s life,” explained Rev. Alissa Oleson, a Lutheran pastor in Quincy, who is one of four participants in the pioneer CPE class.

“To me, spirituality and mental health are very much complementary,” added Rabbi Rachel Putterman, who worked at a synagogue in Haverhill before entering the program. “Mental health treatment, spiritual practices, and religious community can operate together.”

“A big learning curve for me is that for some patients, spirituality/religion is part of the problem,” added Putterman. “It can be part of the illness, and that was new for me.”

More than half of our patients profess a desire to integrate spirituality into their care.”
– Dr. David H. Rosmarin

CPE students complete four units to be eligible for board certification in chaplaincy. They rotate through institutions much like medical residents. At McLean, “they are part of the clinical teams and communicate the spiritual/religious aspects of care,” explained Zollfrank.

“We hope our program will set the bar for other psychiatric hospitals to follow,” she added.

“The CPE program also serves ‘the nones,’ a growing number of the U.S. population without formal religious affiliation,” Zollfrank said. “They self-identify as spiritual, not religious, and they are often very eager to speak with a chaplain in the hospital because they also don’t have community clergy to visit them.”

“I think people come to their clergy as a trusted source when dealing with mental health concerns, and I wanted to be able to address it rather than turning them away,” said Oleson about one of her major takeaways from the program.

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